We were in Ojai, California last weekend and I went to a small yet very diverse farmers’ market on Sunday morning. I came across some interesting onions that I knew I’d seen before, but I couldn’t place them. The farmer called them “torpedo onions” and described them as very spicy. I bought a bagful, determined to figure out where I had seen them before.
Upon getting home and with the help of Google search, I remembered these as Tropea onions or Cipolla rossa di Tropea — sort of. I say “sort of” because the real thing grown around Tropea, Italy in the Calabria region of Italy is a European Union IGP (Protected Geographical Indication) product. That is, if it’s not produced in the exact manner and region specified by the EU, you can’t call it a Cipolla rossa di Tropea. (Think of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese vs. the stuff in the green can.)
These onions are credited with a lot: increasing life span, aiding sleep and increasing sexual performance. For the purposes of this recipe, we are just making Italian onion soup. As the farmer mentioned, they are spicy. I can’t remember my eyes watering quite so badly as when I cut these onions. Regular red onions are a poor-but-worthwhile substitute.
This recipe is adapted from Lida Bastiannich’s 2009 Cookbook – Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy. I have really enjoyed her region-specific recipes, and her section on Calabria is quite good. I recommend this cookbook for your library.
This recipe serves 6 people.
Ingredient and Direction:
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
- 2 pounds of Tropea onions (also called torpedo onions) or other sweet onions – halved or quartered (if the onion is large) and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 @ 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes
- 4 cups of water
- 6 slices of thick crusty bread
- 6 slices of provolone cheese
- 1/3 cup grated pecorino cheese for topping
- A heavy-bottomed soup pot (such as Le Creuset)
- In a large heavy-bottomed pot, add the olive oil and set on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and let sizzle for about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn. Add the onion slices and sprinkle with the salt. Stir into the olive oil with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to low and slowly cook them for about 15 minutes – stirring frequently. The onions will reduce in size and begin to develop a light browned color.
- Add the tomatoes to the pot. Then add 4 cups of water using some water to wash out and add the remaining tomatoes juice in the can. Stir in with the onions. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover with a lid and reduce heat to low and cook for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 15 minutes, letting the soup thicken a bit.
- When ready to serve, toast or grill the bread and immediately top with the provolone cheese to melt a bit. Alternatively, you could toast the bread quickly under the broiler, then add the cheese and brown and melt the a bit. Add bread with cheese to the bottom of a serving bowl. Ladle the soup mixture over the bread. Top with the pecorino and serve.